Interview Series: Paul Jones, Chief Digital and Information Officer, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust

This week we interviewed Paul Jones, Chief Digital and Information Officer at Leeds Teaching Hospitals, only days after Paul returned to work following 4 weeks of having Covid-19. We asked Paul about his digital plans for the next few months and years, and spoke about his time since joining the Trust in November 2019.

Can you tell me about yourself and your organisation?

My background is in computer science, and I completed a PhD in the same subject, before becoming a computer science lecturer. I wasn’t great as a lecturer, so I stopped doing that after a year, which I’m sure the university was very pleased about!

I then worked in the City of London for a while as a software developer, joined an American Consultancy firm, then joined KPMG Consulting; all on the IT side. I also worked on the National Programme for IT after a head-hunter approached me for an enterprise architecture role. I thought “You know what – it’s the largest civil IT programme. You can either sit on the side and criticise it, or roll your sleeves up and try to make a difference.” My wife’s from Leeds, it was based in Leeds, her family lived in Leeds, and so we decided to go for it. We moved up and then before I’d even joined, I was asked to apply for the Chief Technology Officer role. I applied and was successful, which meant I was running all of the architects, all of the testing for the spine, and all of the data standards for the NHS. I loved working on the National Programme but then we got a new government, which meant you couldn’t make the same decisions that you used to be able to make.

Since then I worked at Serco and then Bupa as the Director of Information Strategy and Architecture. Now I’m at Leeds Teaching Hospital Trust (LTHT), one of the biggest in the country with 2,000 beds, 18,000 staff and 1.6 million patients per year. LTHT is  interesting because it does almost everything the NHS does with the exception of only a few specialities.

Could you tell me a bit about the planned two new hospitals and the tech changes in the past few weeks?

We are hoping to start some of the foundation work to move electricity cables and sewage ducts soon. In terms of digital strategy, we are going to get a nice shiny hospital with a nice shiny network in it. We’re working to a 4-year time span for IT – we need to get the staff who will be moving into the new hospital working on their new tech in 4 years.

We have some tremendous digital exemplars at Leeds, such as our pathology services, which is a world leader. I was speaking to one of our consultant neurosurgeons recently about the work he’s been doing around virtual reality. They are talking about using VR headsets to share a 3D version of the brain so they can work out the right routes to get to the tumour they are going to remove.

At the other extreme we have 1.4 million paper patient case notes. About a million of them are off site in a big warehouse, with 400,000 records in libraries at St James and Leeds General Infirmary. When Covid-19 happened, we removed paper. We always had a plan to do that, and we ended up doing it quickly. Projects we thought would take years of engagement, we got agreement for in one afternoon.

We are also using systems such as Attend Anywhere to support outpatients using video consultations, alongside the more traditional route of telephone appointments, which some of our patients prefer. It’s great to be able to offer different options for patients so people can use what they are comfortable with.

Going forward, as we get flows of patients in other areas, we need to consider how our staff will cope – do they have all the digital services and kit they need to continue to operate in clinically effective ways? This is a great opportunity to take some learning and embed it going forward.

Could you tell me about your current systems?

We have well over 300 systems. Hand on heart, it is probably nearer 600, but there are 300 managed by IT. Our core electronic record system is called PPM+. This is a broader extension of the PPM One system, which was originally used for gathering cancer stats and managing cancer patients across the region. We have around 20 to 30 staff working on delivering new PPM+ functionality to support our clinical teams, including sourcing and integrating other components to provide a joined up solution.

Within 2 or 3 days of Covid starting, we had refocused, providing alerts through PPM+ to flag Covid patients. The team has been working flat out over this period to provide clinical teams with the tools they need to manage the pandemic. We’ve got plans to move PPM+ and our pathology system to the cloud, simply because this is an easy way to provide resilient disaster recovery.

Remote working has been another key area of focus for us. Before Covid a busy day was 100 people remote to the Trust connecting in. People typically come to the Trust to work, and I suspect that most of these 100 were clinicians doing consultations out to other parts of the NHS. Within days of Boris’ announcement we had up to 500 people connecting in. We’ve doubled the number of connections we had, and enabled 2,500 additional staff to connect remotely to the Trust. We now have up to 800 concurrent users at a peak and are looking at how we can extend this, as I don’t see remote working going away.

What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?

I’ve never managed my career as such. What I tend to do is find a job I’m interested in, do it as well as I can and then when I’ve done that, look around for the next thing.

I was once at a careers graduate event as a speaker along with a colleague, Kemi Adenubi, who ran the GP programme within NHS Digital for years. She gave a great piece of advice to the graduates, “In your career, if you see something that looks smelly, run towards it. If you only ever go to things that are working well then you never show your value.” So I’m going to pinch Kemi’s advice – “When you’re young and you’ve got nothing to lose, run towards something smelly.”

What is your go to entertainment at the moment?

8 out of 10 cats does countdown – we’ve got loads of them recorded at the moment and even though I’ve seen them all at least once I still laugh.